A veteran journalist on regional affairs
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs
At the weekly cabinet meeting last week, item No.15 was one of the most important issues up for discussion. This concerned a planned statement on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) proposed by US President Joe Biden. The cabinet was quick to agree that Thailand was named as a signatory when Mr Biden announced the new trade agreement during his visit to Japan.
From now on, Asean-US relations will no longer be on "auto-pilot" mode as has been the case for the past six years. The total scheduled 10-and-a-half hours of quality time last week that Asean leaders spent in Washington DC chatting, lunching and dining with all key players in American politics were fruitful. The eight-page joint vision statement was a testimony to their common determination and the staying power of Asean-US relations, now celebrating 45 years. Indeed, Asean centrality has been further strengthened.
The timing and venue of the upcoming special summit between Asean and US leaders later this week are extraordinary. However, the ways in which the unusual strategic circumstances and tensions could further shape the trajectory of Asean-US relations remain to be seen. With the new schedule of the May 12-13 summit in Washington DC and the fresh developments on the ground at home and abroad, the summit will be conducted in a very cautious manner to prevent any spill-over effects or unintended consequences. Indeed, there is a high level of scepticism among the Asean members as to what the US has up its sleeve. The American gung-ho rhetoric has been quite worrisome.
Despite setbacks due to the unsettled domestic conditions inside Myanmar since the coup in February 2021, Asean is moving ahead to explore practical ways to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the affected peoples of Myanmar, the number of which will soon reach one million.
During Golden Week, around the first week of May, Japanese politicians will usually spend time at home with their constituencies and families. Not the prime minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, however. He knows full well that as the world's third-largest economy, Japan's wider diplomatic and security profile in the era of great disruption with the Russia-Ukraine war must be underlined. No time to waste.
Beyond 2025, what will Asean be like? Will the grouping become less relevant as many political pundits often predict? What are existential threats to Asean? Is Asean going to expand its membership? How can we make Asean a more inclusive organisation? Can Asean make effective decisions faster in response to a crisis? Will Asean be able to navigate the competition between the superpowers?
Like it or not, we are today living in a bifurcated world as never seen before. In the past, the so-called divided world was half real and half imagined, with no clearly defined red line. That gave a lot of room for diplomatic manoeuvring to all countries not wanting to be caught in an unfriendly situation. Today, this room is becoming smaller and more toxic.
Last week in Brussels, US President Joe Biden suggested that Russia should be removed from the Group of Twenty, or G20 as it is more commonly known, the economic forum of industrialised and developing countries. He reiterated that with the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, it could not be business as usual for Russia in international institutions and the international community. Mr Biden's comment sent a shockwave through Asean capitals. During the second and third week of November, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand are hosting different summits with Russia, as a key member, along with China and the US and its allies. These meetings are the G20, East Asia Summit and Apec leaders' meeting. They could be two hubristic weeks of summits.